Words, jamais portés


When Barthes learned about the death of his friend’s loved one, he spontaneously set down to write some words of compassion. Going through his memories, his feelings, he tried to figure out which words could be helpful in the current context. Finally, he realized that whatever he felt, whatever he thought, could be and should be said in one, simple word: Condolences.

Only that writing this single word was practically impossible: his friend would certainly think him for a cold heart man, seeing his deed as an act of obligation. He might even get offended. No, “Condolences” was out of question.

Many other words appeared then, each fighting for a place on that white paper. It was then that Barthes realized his second problem: those easy coming words were too obvious, too banal, too used; a bourgeois schmaltz.


And so he kept wandering further away from that simple, single and accurate word that had it all, in a search for some rarities – words jamais portés, at least not in this specific context consisting of Barthes, his friend and the deceased.

That, says Barthes, is the essence of Literature. Unlike what is commonly perceived, Literature does not reveal, disclose or illuminate the ineffable, that substance which no words can describe. Literature hides, erases, masks, distracts and deviates from what originally could have been said in a simple, single word.

And see also The Worst of Authors.

2 Responses to “Words, jamais portés”

  1. Gabriel Says:

    Pardon je vais le dire en français…

    La littérature c’est une manière de reprendre ces mots aussi, de leur redonner un sens. Que le deuil se résume au mot “Condoléances” est une fin, une tête d’épingle de sens et de sincérité, mais aussi un début, une finale en forme d’ouverture..
    Maintenant les mots parfois reprennent leur sens. Le lieu commun est réinvesti, redécoré. Comme chez Beckett qui n’utilisait presque pas d’images..
    Lorsque j’ai rencontré le deuil dans ma vie, tous les moments alors me paraissaient uniques, importants. Plus rien ne se répétait, les mots à nouveau dépouillés de leurs vieilles images d’habitudes et leurs ennui.
    Lorsque je lis de même chaque instant se dépouille de sa répétition pour rentrer dans la sensation..

    Alors pourquoi les mots de la littérature seraient jamais portés? Peut-être au contraire, par le tour de l’art, deviennent-ils comme neufs.

  2. muli koppel Says:

    Bonjour Gabriel

    It’s your allusion to Hemingway (plus your own story) that I carry along with me, and that you can find in the title of this post, as I assume you have already guessed.

    I like very much the paradox embedded in your personal story, i.e. that facing death is like facing a book, and that in both cases we’re talking about a different time, a time which is no longer used as a parchment for writing down our memories; a time no longer used for creating meaning through memory, i.e. through the recognition of an already stored pattern.

    Rather, before death, just like before the book, we find immediatism. Death and books are those providing a full, one-time meaning for each time capsule. Funny, but it is in death that time is finally used for experiencing the present, rather than for the archival of already gone moments.

    I think that this is an old story too, for no one can see God and stay alive. Immediatism kills, but that’s only while being on the ordinary time axis: death and books have their own time.

    au revoir et merci

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